Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer told Congress yesterday that he would not endorse an outright ban on "downer" cows entering the food supply or back stiffer penalties for regulatory violations by meat-processing plants in the wake of the largest beef recall in the nation's history.
Appearing at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing, Schafer said the department is investigating why it missed the inhumane treatment of cattle at the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif., including workers administering electric shocks and high-intensity water sprays to downer cows -- those too sick or weak to stand without assistance.
The secretary announced interim steps such as more random inspections of slaughterhouses and more frequent unannounced audits of the nearly two dozen plants that process meat for federal school lunch programs.
But he deflected calls from Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), the subcommittee chairman, for the government to ban all downer cows from the food supply, increase penalties for violators and require installation of 24-hour surveillance cameras in processing plants.
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A confirmed case or two of mad cow disease would devastate the beef industry, much more than the recent beef recall. It seems like the industry would welcome tougher regulations and oversight...you know, instead of the alternative. Not that there aren't already tough regulations on the books that aren't being enforced due to a shortage of inspections.